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PGA: Stephen Ames coasts to six shot win
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Golf Notes February 12th

The latest endorsement deal in Tiger Woods' camp belongs to his caddie.

Steve Williams, who races cars in New Zealand when he's not on the bag for the world's No. 1 player, has signed a deal with Valvoline to wear its logo on his shirt sleeve during golf tournaments.

Valvoline is his primary sponsor on the racing circuit.

"It will be good exposure for them," Williams said Tuesday. "And it's good to be associated with a company that is synonymous with racing."

That begs the question: Is he a caddie who races cars on the side, or a race car driver who moonlights as a caddie?

"I treat each of them seriously," Williams said Tuesday. "I love to caddie and I love to race cars, and I give each of them my undivided attention when I'm doing them."

He said Woods and Nike signed off on the deal, and he will continue to wear Nike hats.

Williams races "saloon" cars, which he described as late-model cars on dirt tracks. He won three major races during his two-month break while Woods recovered from knee surgery, but he is ineligible for the season points race.

"You have to be there every week for that," Williams said. "I have two cars in two classes, so I just pick the best races."

Williams started caddying for Woods at Bay Hill in 1999, and has been on the bag for 31 of his 41 victories worldwide, including seven of his eight majors.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: So much for that trend of first-time winners.

At this point last year, two players already had won for the first time on the PGA Tour, a number that grew to a record 18 by the end of the season. That led most players to speculate that the tour was deeper and more talented than ever.

The truth is, the PGA Tour has been loaded with talent the past several years.

"The way things happen in sports, you see the pendulum swing," said Len Mattiace, whose first career victory came at the Nissan Open. "I think that was a time the pendulum was swinging for first-time winners."

It might have had more to do with top players not performing, which Mattiace said enabled other players to have more chances at winning.

"I don't think we will see as many this year because the percentages are against it," Mattiace said.

Call it a case of jumping to conclusions.

The latest craze on tour is foreign-born players winning the first four events of the year, and six in a row dating to last year. Davis Love III ended that streak at Pebble Beach, and odds are it will be evened out by the time the year is over.

Ernie Els was 31 under par at Kapalua - smashing the tour record in relation to par - and cries rang out that scoring records would fall just about every week. So far, that has been the only tournament record that was broken.

One last example of the sky falling: Pebble Beach.

Some people suggested a few years ago that the tournament move from its early February date because of all the weather problems. It was canceled in 1996, went through a seven-month delay in 1998 and was 54 holes in 1999.

No one is complaining now.

It was the third straight year rain was never a factor on the Monterey Peninsula.

MATCH PLAY: Kevin Sutherland is trying to keep an important streak alive this week in the Buick Invitational. He needs a good tournament to avoid being the first defending champion not to qualify for the Match Play Championship.

The deadline for qualifying for the World Golf Championship is next Monday, and Sutherland is hanging on at No. 62.

Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are virtually assured of being the top three seeds for the Accenture Match Play Championship, which will be played in two weeks at La Costa.

The real shuffling comes at the bottom. Toru Taniguchi (No. 51) has withdrawn because of injury, so No. 65 will be the final seed. Jay Haas is holding down that spot, followed by Robert Karlsson and Paul Azinger.

Also on the bubble are Mark Calcavecchia (No. 69) and Stewart Cink (No. 74), who has never missed a Match Play Championship.

LEHMAN'S PUSH: The 6-foot birdie putt Tom Lehman missed on the 18th green cost him a chance to win the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but it wasn't a total loss.

Lehman, who hasn't won in two years, moved up to No. 39 in the world ranking. He needs to stay in the top 50 through The Players Championship to avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 1992.

HOME ON THE RANGE: Vijay Singh started hitting balls on the practice range about noon Monday after he arrived at Torrey Pines. Before long, his divots carved a trench that stretched about 6 feet long.

Two hours later, there were six trenches and Singh was still pounding away.

Steve Stricker came by to watch.

"If I hit two in a row like that, I'd quit," he said.

When a range attendant brought two more buckets of balls, Singh said he would hit those and then call it a day. With 11 balls remaining, he hit one that tailed to the right, two good shots, then two that went too far left for his taste.

"Bring me one more bucket," he said to caddie Paul Tesori.

DIVOTS: After struggling through the year to find tournament sponsors, the PGA Tour is off to a good start in 2003. Already signed up through 2006, AT&T (Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and Deere & Co. (John Deere Classic) have extended their title sponsorship through 2010. ... The jumbling of the May schedule on the PGA Tour gave the Colonial something it hasn't had in nine years - the U.S. Amateur champion in the field. John Harris in 1994 was the last U.S. Amateur champion to play. The following years, the winners were obligated to play in their NCAA regionals. ... Suzy Whaley has accepted a sponsor's exemption to play in the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic in June. She missed the cut the three previous times she played. ... Junior golf programs in Indio, Calif., Wilkinsburg, Pa., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, have been selected to each send 15 kids to the Tiger Woods Foundation Junior Golf Clinic at Disney World in the fall.

STAT OF THE WEEK: David Duval is leading the PGA Tour with an average of 1.581 putts per greens hit in regulation. He has missed the cut in both his tournaments.

FINAL WORD: "He won't be any different. He can play on one leg and still beat us." Shigeki Maruyama, on Tiger Woods recovering from knee surgery.

 

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